Taking the pain out of piano - Bristol teacher rewrites the music books
David Clensy meets the Bristol piano teacher who has come up with a new way to teach beginners
MANY of us have been there as a child – sitting before a piano, while a teacher with inexplicable leather patches on the elbows of his tweed jacket tries to drum into us the importance of reading the notes accurately, counting the beat, co-ordinating the two hands and as if all that wasn't enough, playing with "expression".
But one Bristol piano teacher has taken the age-old torture of piano lessons and revolutionised them.
Daniel Lloyd has been teaching piano to 35 students each week from his St Jude's home for the last 20 years, and he says he has always tried to engage his pupils first and foremost in enjoying the music.
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But for beginners, reading sheet music can be an intimidating challenge – that's why Daniel has come up with "No Notes" – a new way of learning to play, without a crotchet or a quaver in sight.
"It won't work for everybody, but many of my students find it very useful," the 53-year-old says.
"It was something I did naturally during classes – rather than insisting a beginner ploughs straight into trying to read music, I would get my pencil and sketch out very simple tablature, based on the fingers rather than the musical notes on a stave.
"Piano teachers have always numbered their students' fingers, one to five on each hand, but occasionally writing a finger number beneath the notes on the sheet music, can actually make an already complex sheet of information even more distracting.
"I wanted to strip it down to its bare essentials – what does the student actually need to be able to play the melody with both hands?
"I realised all you need are the finger numbers, with the left and right hand running alongside each other. By colouring the left hand numbers green and the right hand numbers red, the student can clearly see what they should be doing with their hands, without the need to distract their attention at this early stage by burdening them with note values or note names, and certainly not throwing in treble clefs and bass clefs."
Daniel found his students thrived so well with his new method of teaching, he decided to self-publish a book of his "No Notes" sheet music.
"It's essentially a book of nursery rhymes, which happens to have the finger notation for the piano music on there with them," he says.
"I suppose I'm sentimental, but I was beginning to feel that other than Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Baa Baa Black Sheep, many children don't get to learn the majority of the traditional nursery rhymes properly anymore.
"There are plenty of nursery rhyme books out there, but I think the tunes are an important part of them, and they tend to get lost over the years."
Daniel's music book is already selling well both online and in local music shops, but he already has his sights set on developing the idea further.
"I would like to do some similar books for adult learners," he says. "I'm already working on an idea for a book of simple blues riffs, but I'd also like to get together a book of folk tunes for adults to play, and perhaps a book of popular classical melodies."
Daniel himself started playing the piano at the age of seven, but despite going on to study film and television music at MA level at Bournemouth Media School, he initially chose a career path that saw him interpreting satellite imagery with the European Space Agency in Brussels.
"But after a few years I realised a decade had passed and I hadn't played the piano nearly enough," he says. "So I decided to go back to my first love, and started teaching from home when I moved back to Bristol.
"I love teaching, and for me it's important to capture pupils' interest in playing music early on, in order to stop them getting frustrated with the technical challenge of reading music and just packing it all in.
"It was clear to me that the key was to allow them to play something that was recognisably a tune as early as possible – that's where my No Notes idea came from."
No Notes: Children's Songs is available now, priced £4.99. For more details, visit the website at www.nonotes.co.uk.